There are people who don’t need to eat large amounts of sugar and saturated fat to get through the dark and dismal winter months. Those people are alcoholics. If you’re not an alcoholic and you’re looking for something to keep you busy while you’re stuck inside for the next few weeks, you might turn to baking, which I’ve done recently. Tate & Lyle plc, the maker of Lyle’s golden syrup, holds a Royal Warrant from Her Majesty the Queen as “Sugar Refiners.”
Lyle’s golden syrup is one of those quintessentially British foods for which Americans don’t really have a substitute. The British seem to use it in the same way we might use Karo syrup here—in baking, in sauces, in lieu of maple syrup on pancakes. Maybe the most appealing thing about buying Lyle’s is that it doesn’t appear to be made of corn. In the United States, everything is made from corn. This sweetener that doesn’t rely on it seems like something special to me.And it is special. The company’s history dates back to 1881, when Abram Lyle and his three sons began operating an English sugar refinery on the banks of the Thames. In 1883 they first invented their golden syrup, which they refined from the sweet and sticky liquid produced by sugar refining. The company registered its “lion and bees” trademark symbol in 1904 and has used it ever since; it’s a reference to the Old Testament story of Samson in the Bible. Between the two world wars, Abram Lyle & Sons merged with another sugar refinery, Henry Tate & Sons. (Tate was the same Tate who the famous British art museums were named after). The company has held a Royal Warrant since 1922.
I first heard of Lyle’s golden syrup a few years ago because one of my co-workers at my first job in Chicago was British. He knew I loved baking, so one day he put in a special request for a dessert called caramel slice. I had no trouble finding recipes for this yummy caramel-filled and chocolate-covered shortbread bar (the name “slice” is most commonly used in Australia, where it refers to a bar cookie), but I did have trouble finding golden syrup. I finally gave up and used corn syrup, and that turned out to be a disaster. The caramel filling was way too runny, and the taste was all wrong. My friend was nice about it, but he finally admitted it was nothing like the dessert he remembered from home.I tried my first caramel slice two summers ago in London at Café Nero, that ubiquitous London coffee chain with a shop in Westminster. I’ve wanted to get my hands on a decent caramel slice ever since, and I admit this is one of the royal warrant products I most wanted to try when I began this blog. I’ve been so thrilled with it all the way around—the surprisingly vibrant and beautiful copper color of the syrup when I opened the tin, the smooth and satiny caramel sauce I made on my stovetop last weekend, and the fantastic bar cookies Adam and I have been snacking on all week.
The recipes I pulled and combined to make my own caramel slice hybrid all came from Australian cooking websites. I found myself getting pulled into their quirky derivation of the English language: the absence of articles before nouns; the use of the metric system in the kitchen—which seems so odd to Americans dependent on the oddities of the English system; and the reference to exotic food products like copha, a vegetable shortening made from coconut oil. My Internet foray into Australia made me think about Australia when it was part of the British Empire, when it was one of many distant lands under the rule of the English monarchy.
Where to buy: I ordered my little tin of golden syrup on Amazon. In Chicago, I've seen it for sale at Spencer's Jolly Posh Foods.Caramel Slice
Shortbread crust:1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
Caramel filling:1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 T. Lyle’s golden syrup
½ cup butter
Topping:1 ½ cups semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine butter and sugar, then flour, until the mixture is crumbly and has several pea-sized pieces. Grease the bottom and sides of a 13x9” pan and press shortbread mixture into an even layer in the pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until shortbread is firm but still soft. Let cool.On stovetop, combine milk, golden syrup, and butter and bring to a boil over medium heat. Simmer over low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, for five more minutes, until caramel mixture has thickened. Pour over cooled shortbread crust and refrigerate for 3-4 hours.
Melt chocolate in a double broiler or in the microwave and pour over firm caramel layer. Refrigerate for another hour before cutting bars into squares. Tip: Don’t wait too long to cut these; the harder the chocolate gets, the harder they are to cut.